Food for the mind

The Modern Myth of Superfoods

The term Superfoods entered the dictionary in the early twentieth century. In the 60’s and 70’s it was frequently used in conjunction with the word “cultural “. Cultural superfoods, by definition, were those foods which were a community’s main source of calories because of which they acquired a tremendous religious, cultural, historical and mystical hold on particular societies acquiring a semi divine significance to its people.

Often these foods, generally staples, were cultivated and ingested to the exclusion of other nutritious foods and unless supplemented with other foods , led to malnutrition in the immediate population as proved by Derrick Brian Jeliffe and his wife Eleanore Patrice, experts in the field of infant and cross cultural nutrition. Thus rice in South India, Steamed Plantain (Matoke) in Buganda, Wheat bread in Europe and  Maize in Central America, having this socio religious significance, were classified as Cultural Super foods. *1

Today the usage is somewhat different.

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Auchan not so chaan

It took me some time to begin shopping for groceries at supermarket chains. I felt disloyal to my neighbourhood general stores where my rupee contributed to the preservation of "small business".

In the face of horrifying parking issues in Pune ( where not one building has adhered to parking laws, and has sold or rented parking spaces to house yet more shops, so customers are forced to park on the road,  creating more jams, obstructions and stress) I have been forced to frequent the self help supermarkets proliferating all over Pune.. 

It has not all been  under protest though. The parking lots are the main attraction. No major warfare  at the time of parking. Trolleys to save the weight on my arms, airconditioning and choice.All this makes it an option today.The time saved, alone, makes it worthwhile. 

In the beginning it seemed as if every supermarket catered to a foreign clientele- olive oil, pasta, mayonnaise , tinned , processed and unrecognisable foods filled the shelves. However I was glad to notice that one or two supermarkets had the average Indian customer in mind and offered, besides jowar and bajra grains and flour, more niche foods like dosa batter, idli batter and khowa, lassi and paneer.

And so I became a regular customer at Auchan (once known and soon to be known again as Spar.)

Ah Woe is Me!!

Auchan logo

For the last month I have been going to the delicatessan counter to pick up the usual batter and have been met with an indifferent ...." Its finished or Just starting to grind, or I dont know , not available. " No explainations, no concern, no attempt to cater to the customer. Nobody had bothered to ensure that products which were advertised were actually stocked or available.

When attempting to make a complaint, there is no manager, no assistant manager, no customer care human available . Have they all gone to lunch at 12 oclock at the same time, or maybe congregating for an important meeting in the toilet?

Unless you stage a dharna and raise your voice no person in sight wants to come forward and take responsibility.

As in all these large companies when it comes to the crunch the customer just has to lump it because no one is hearing. It seems every food retail business in India is making money hand over fist and couldn't care one bit about the consumer....yes, us little people who make your tills ring.

It is no longer worth going out of my way to a supermarket to buy ALL my groceries on the promise of one or two items specific to them, when there is no guarantee that they will be available. For the rest what they stock is what my mom and pop store stocks. So its back to Panchali General store for me.

Bye Bye Auchan and Spar

MealTango - bringing civility back to the table



Margaret Visser in her wonderful book "The Rituals of Dinner ", points out that one of the things that makes us different from animals is  that we share our food. We do not eat it on the spot .We carry it home and apportion it out between family members.

We have slowly made the sharing of food into an art form. refining rules and adding aesthetic. The mark of a civilized man is the manner in which he "breaks bread"; customs of preparing and eating food that brought pleasure ,culture  and even sophistication to the daily meal. 

In the era of fast food, these forms are fading. Ingesting a meal in the shortest possible time with the least effort minus any decorum , communion or civility cannot be doing us much good.
When we go to a restaurant we try to recreate the those practices of service and conversation but the experience has become ubiquitous  as has the food. It is not possible to create excellent food with fresh, locally procured ingedients for large numbers of people without losing out on quality and taste. 

Luckily there  are many people out there who share the  love of convivality that goes especially well with food and who are willing to put in the effort to make great meals to share .  As Margaret Visser  said people who "remember that breaking bread and sharing it with friends "means" friendship"... and that the word "companion " means literally " a person with whom we share bread."
To meet those people take a look at a new site called MealTango. It brings together hosts and guests who share a love of food and company. It promises to make meals unusual and sociable anywhere in the world.
So if you are a traveller who would like an authentic taste of the place as well as meet a local family you can log in as a guest and find yourself an experience just up your street.
This experience is open to residents as well. Say I want to try appams and stew made in typical Kerala style and meet new people in the process I can find what I need in a few minutes. 
MealTango is also a wonderful opportunity to anyone who has ever dreamed of opening a restaurant but does not have the financial backing or management skills . Its like having an informal restaurant in your own home where the host and guest sit at the same table . Its a perfect showcase for culinary talent and skills in an informal setting. And a chance to earn a  little or a lot for that proficiency.
What I like are the options open for all. Vegetarian , Non Vegetarian, Indian, International, Diabetic, Gluten free, Satvik Jain and  Kosher meals are some of the choices available. 
MealTango sounds like a blessing for the foodie, always on the look out for different tastes with a guarantee that only the best, freshest ingredients will be used . The site offers a hearty meal , breakfast , lunch , tea or dinner that can be had in the company of affable people with similar interests.

I have already booked up for several meals in the next week  and will following up with feedback and reviews of the same.
Meanwhile if you want to be a guest or host log in to and sign up. It takes all of five minutes.